Based on true events. Ever since Fargo (1996) and the Coen brother's false true statement, the viewing public has become oh so wary. So when Find Me Guilty proudly boasts its actual true content, naturally a double take is needed. In fact, Find Me Guilty is based on actual events, but more than that, most of the courtroom dialogue is taken from the actual transcripts of the time. This of course gives the film an air of authenticity, and this was in the fore front of director Sidney Lumet's mind; however authenticity and dramatic licence don't often go hand in hand, Find Me Guilty sure doesn't.
The story involves one Giacomo "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) a fiercely loyal mobster and his representing himself in the longest criminal trial in American History; some two years. While already serving a thirty year jail sentence for drug charges Jackie was approached by the government with a deal to reduce his sentence by informing on his 'family'; he declined. Undeterred the prosecution indicted nineteen mobsters, each with their own defence lawyers, with seventy six charges, in one mammoth trail which returned a verdict of..... well, now, that would be telling huh? Let's just say it might surprise.
That is pretty much the entire story of the film; it is a court room drama with Diesel taking centre stage with a buffoonish charm that simultaneously infuriates the prosecution and the defence, his, so called, mob friends and family and ultimately the judge himself. The fact he gets away with what he does is quite incredible, if it were not in the transcripts you would think it was made up.
So, we have comedy, drama, an interesting dilemma and an entertaining film. However, the problem lies with our moral loyalties; for unlike Jackie we do not know who to root for. It is abundantly clear that those on trial are the criminal element the prosecution make them out to be, we should be siding here; however with all the slanting towards the criminals, their charm and bravado, while making the prosecution look like sleazy wolves we cannot help but be swayed. Much like the court itself we become fooled into thinking that Jackie and, by inference, the rest of the defendants are nice guys; this moral ambiguity doesn't quite sit right, at least it shouldn't. Lumet presents the gangsters as loyal, lovable characters, in stark contrast to the Goodfellas (1990), or The Sopranos (1999) even though there are elements common to all. He is very one sided in his arguments especially with his regard to Jackie and his treatment by the prosecution (talking his prison privileges, cell beating etc) as nothing more than ruthless, it is heavily weighted in the criminal favour - there's the dramatic licence coming in - we are meant to feel bad for him, we want him to succeed, we are required to love him, as he needs to be loved; without this element the film would not succeed. And succeed it does, despite Diesels hair. Who'd have thought Diesel would be able to carry a drama such as this, he is the main focus of the film, there is hardly a scene that doesn't involve him; and he actually gets to flex his acting muscles instead of his actual muscles. He is ably supported by Peter Dinklage as the leading defence lawyer and Ron Silver as the judge. But they are the only ones that manage to stand out as, an unfortunate side effect of placing so much screen time on one character, everyone else is reduced to single lines or wafer thin stereotypes; see Alex Rocco as mob boss Nick Calabrese for a prime example.
It is the courtroom scenes that the film works best, a very rushed intro and a few interim scenes about Jackie's prison suffering are played down, or glossed over, whatever you wish, in the rush to get back to the main focus. Of course trying to pack two years into two hours much is skipped over, little actual evidence is given by the prosecution, in favour of Jackie's rebuttal of the prosecution witnesses; ok it is fun to watch and necessary to keep the momentum up, but a little bit of the other side of the story might have been nice.
In the end the film is really quite light and entertaining, there is much to enjoy even if there is a little moral ambiguity thrown in, it gives you something to think about; when has a Vin Diesel film ever made you think?
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